In case you haven’t already figured it out, I am not your average do-gooder.
Yes, I started out like many people: wanting to make a difference, believing a blue chip university degree meant I could change the world, diving into international charity work without asking a lot of questions. But what I experienced changed me.
For fifteen years, I worked in the global aid industry across Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. In 1993 I went to South Africa to work with a human rights organisation during the dying days of apartheid and was lucky enough to monitor the historic 1994 elections. Hooked on the promise of the new South Africa, I stayed for another four years working with a US non-profit to strengthen the capacity of local NGOs. During that time I was also given the opportunity to develop new projects in countries across east and southern Africa, including Mozambique, Botswana, and Ethiopia. Then in 1997 I moved to Zimbabwe to start an HIV/AIDS program. Feeling helpless as I watched the country being brought to its knees by an epidemic and the man who claimed to be its liberator, I left in 2000 and began consulting to the aid industry.
Over the course of this career, I’ve worked both at grassroots and corporate level: facilitating planning meetings under shady trees and in air conditioned boardrooms, helping multinational charities design multi-million dollar projects and assisting community groups to plan their hundred dollar budgets. In other words, I have just about “seen it all” in the aid industry.
Today I still believe in the basic goodness of human beings and the imperative to build on that goodness for social change. But I am unwilling to apologize for folly and wrongdoing regardless of a person’s skin color, birthplace, wealth or poverty. I believe there are solutions to social problems, but not easy solutions, and certainly none that money can buy. I believe that if we are to succeed, we, the developed and developing world, need to change the way we think and act with regard to our most daunting social challenges. We need more honesty and less guilt, more analysis and less emotion, more questions about aid and fewer calls for more of it.
Above all we need dialogue and reflection. And that’s why I’m here.